The latest in the Mexican government’s series of “myth-busting” blog posts challenges the idea that authorities aren't doing enough to hunt down Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Guzman heads Mexico’s biggest drug trafficking organization, and is now the most wanted man in Mexico, if not the world. He has been on the run since escaping prison in 2001, and was recently described by an official from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as the biggest drug trafficker in history.

Guzman’s decade of liberty is an ongoing embarrassment to the Mexican government, especially with the emergence of claims over the years that the drug lord was living openly in the mountains of the Sierra Madre. There are stories about him marrying in a public ceremony in a local village, zooming through the region in a convoy of cars, and going out to eat in restaurants accompanied by his entourage.

Meanwhile, there are suspicions that the government is focusing on pursuing members of other drug-trafficking organizations, at the expense of targeting the Sinaloa Cartel. An investigation by the U.S. radio station NPR in 2010 found that the number of Sinaloa members captured is disproportionately low, relative to those arrested from other criminal groups.

All this, together with the rising fortunes of the Sinaloa Cartel, has led to suspicions that law enforcement may be on Guzman’s side, perhaps working to eliminate the Sinaloa Cartel's rivals at the expense of targeting Sinaloan operatives, with "El Chapo's" unofficial blessing.

Even the U.S. government has referenced such doubts; a cable sent by U.S. embassy staff in January 2009 and released by WikiLeaks referred to the “widely held” view that the army was allowing the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels fight it out in Cuidad Juarez. The cable also noted that many thought the government would prefer Sinaloa to win, and that the army and federal police “rarely” had direct confrontations with the drug gangs.

In one previous "myth busting" blog post, the government blamed previous administrations for their "inaction and tolerance" towards crime. The question is whether the Calderon adminsitration deserves suspicion that the Sinaloa Cartel is now facing similar "inaction and tolerance" from the authorities.

It is true that the group probably enjoys close relationships with powerful elements in Mexico’s law enforcement, perhaps more so than its rivals. However, rather than being evidence of a conspiracy, this is more likely a product of the Sinaloa Cartel's longevity and wealth, as well as the fact that it favors a more quiet, low-key approach than groups like the Zetas, who are more prepared to use violence to gain authority.

An important distinction should be made between Calderon’s administration and elements in the army, police, and local government. Clearly it would be impossible for such a famous fugitive to remain at large for so long within his own country without support from some sectors of the security forces. There are many areas of the county where officials, even at the highest levels, are in the pockets of traffickers such as the Sinaloans, but this does not mean that Calderon’s government is backing the Sinaloa Cartel as a matter of policy. This is more a sign of the federal government’s lack of control over their forces than of their complicity with Guzman.

It's also possible that the Mexican government is simply attacking the groups strategically, going after the weakest first and leaving Sinaloa until last. Another factor is that the Sinaloans are simply using corruption rather than violence as their preferred business strategy, in contrast to the Zetas, known for burying scores of people in mass graves. This means by default, the Sinaloa Cartel must attract less attention from authorities, who must prioritize targeting the cartels who use brutal, attention-grabbing tactics that are most disruptive to public security.

U.S. law enforcement may have its own part to play in allowing Guzman to remain at liberty. A group of hackers recently released documents which seemingly showed that in 2009 U.S. authorities had failed to alert Mexican law enforcement about a tip-off that the Sinaloa head and his associates had been gathered at a ranch near the Arizona border. However, this could itself be evidence that the U.S. authorities do not sufficiently trust Mexican forces to feed them information about Guzman.

Recent reports have also placed Guzman outside of Mexico, suggesting that it is increasingly uncomfortable for him to operate in his home country. One unsubstantiated report claimed that the kingpin had moved many of his operations to Argentina, and had been living there for some months until March 2011. More recently, and perhaps more credibly, President Alvaro Colom said that he had repeatedly received intelligence reports saying that Guzman was in Guatemala, and that he was thought to move between Guatemala and Honduras.

In a sign of how deep Guzman’s influence goes, or how far people believe in the drug lord’s boundless ability to corrupt, even Colom appeared to feel the need to emphasize his government is not protecting the Sinaloa leader (Guzman was arrested in Guatemala in 1993). “We are behind him,” said the president, “and if we have not captured him it is simply because the information was incomplete or not timely.”

(See a video accompanying the blog post, below.)

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...